7 Things Anorexia Does to Your Body

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Healthgrades Editorial Staff on November 9, 2020
  • woman vomiting in toilet
    The Damaging Effects of Anorexia
    Having anorexia changes how much you weigh and how you look, but its effects go much deeper than that. From head to toe, hair to skin and heart to brain, nothing escapes without harm. Severe calorie restriction leaves the body without enough nutrients and energy. The whole body slows down its functions — and suffers. Here's a snapshot of what this eating disorder does to the body.
  • Eating salmon salad
    Heart Damage
    A healthy diet gives your heart important nutrients like magnesium, calcium and potassium. Your heart needs these to pump with a normal rhythm. Nutrients help keep the heart muscle strong. Heart problems are the most common cause of death for people with anorexia. This eating disorder can cause the heart to beat too fast or too slow. It also can cause heart failure.
  • Looking down on woman's feet as she weighs herself
    Weakening Bones
    Anorexia causes bones to weaken and thin. That can lead to osteoporosis, a bone disease. This usually happens because of a rise in stress hormones caused by anorexia and because of low levels of the hormone estrogen in women and testosterone in men. Not getting enough calcium through your diet can also cause a drop in bone density. The lower your body weight, the greater the bone loss. And, preteen girls who have anorexia don't form strong bones during an important period of growth. The changes in bone health often cannot be reversed.
  • Negative Pregnancy Test
    Changes in Reproductive Health
    Hormonal changes in estrogen affect menstruation in girls and women. Periods may stop completely. Women who are or were anorexic may have trouble getting pregnant. Women who get pregnant while they're underweight have a greater risk of miscarrying. After pregnancy, they may be more likely than others to develop postpartum depression. Also, their babies may have birth defects or weigh less than normal at birth.
  • Hairbrush
    Changes to Skin, Hair and Teeth
    Not getting enough nutrients through food can cause tooth problems, such as decay. Some people with anorexia lose all their hair. For others, their hair gets thin, dry and dull. Sometimes soft, fine hair grows all over the body to help keep it warmer because the body is losing fat. Skin also gets very dry because of anorexia.
  • tired-woman-in-bed-looking-at-clock
    Fewer Blood Cells
    People with anorexia often have anemia. That's when you don't have enough red blood cells. This can make you very tired. Extreme cases of anorexia cause the body to produce fewer red blood cells than usual. That can be very dangerous, even fatal. Production of white blood cells may also drop off because of anorexia. Since white blood cells fight off infections, not having enough of these cells makes you more likely to get sick with an infection. It also may be harder to get better after being sick.
  • Teen girl eating a tomato
    Dehydration and Kidney Damage
    Lack of food and fluids can cause dehydration. That's when the body doesn't have enough fluids. Severe dehydration is a life-threatening condition. Dehydration can also cause your kidneys to stop working properly.
  • Anorexia
    Brain and Nerve Changes
    Not getting enough nutrients affects the nervous system in many ways. Anorexia can damage the nerves in the hands and feet. This can make you feel cold. It also can cause numbness or unusual feelings in those areas. Also, people with anorexia sometimes have seizures. They also struggle with concentration, memory and thinking. The damage from anorexia causes physical changes in the structure of the brain. This affects the way the brain works. Sometimes the damage is permanent, even when the person recovers from anorexia.
  • Team of doctors.
    Hope Through Intervention
    Some effects of anorexia nervosa, even changes to the nervous system, can be reversed with treatment. Like other medical conditions, the sooner treatment starts, the more effective it is likely to be. Different types of medical specialists may be involved in caring for an individual with anorexia depending on the extent of organ and other damage.
7 Things Anorexia Does to Your Body

About The Author

The Healthgrades Editorial Staff is an experienced team of in-house editors, writers and content producers. Our team has a wealth of experience in the fields of journalism, TV and video production and the healthcare industry. We are committed to providing our audience with actionable content and tools to help them make the best decision when it comes to choosing a healthcare professional.
  1. Anorexia Nervosa. National Eating Disorders Association. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/anorexia-nervosa 
  2. Eating Disorders. University of Maryland Medical Center. http://umm.edu/health/medical/reports/articles/eating-disorders 
  3. Anorexia Nervosa. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anorexia/symptoms-causes/dxc-20179513
  4. Anorexia Nervosa. Medline Plus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000362.htm
  5. Dehydration. Medline Plus, U.S. National Library of Medicine , National Institutes of Health. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000982.htm
  6. Oral Health Topics. Anorexia Nervosa. American Dental Association. http://www.ada.org/en/member-center/oral-health-topics/anorexia-nervosa
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 9
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.